With graduation approaching, I’m frequently asked what my future plans are. Not everything is completely worked out yet, but this post is an attempt to explain at least one decision I’ve arrived at.
Especially now that we’re in the second half of my last semester, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in my time at Samford. To be honest, my transcript actually makes me laugh; the word “eclectic” comes to mind. Although my transcript demonstrates the broad scope of instruction I have received, it does not represent all that I have learned in the past four years.
Things I Have Learned That Are Not on my Transcript
- How to be ambidextrous. I’ve learned how to adapt–in some occasions, seamlessly–to physical challenges that arise unexpectedly. Before coming to Samford, I had only dealt with chronic pain in one joint. By the end of today, I will have applied some form of preventative care or treatment to five joints (and also my spine). But today’s a pretty normal day. I’ve had to adopt a new framework for normalcy. Not gonna lie, I am pretty proud of my ability to start off this semester ambidextrous after hand surgery.
- How to advocate for myself in a doctor’s office. At the beginning of my Samford career, I had probably reached a level of comfort in doctors’ offices. But especially in the past few months, I’ve gained the confidence to approach my medical professionals–who have completed many more years of schooling than I have–and tell them what I need. For instance, soon after surgery on my right hand, the instability in my left hand increased drastically. While my brilliant surgeon was focused on getting my right hand fully recovered, I had to speak up for myself and ask for a physical therapy script for my left hand. Because I advocated for myself, and because of my wonderfully competent physical therapist, the stability in my left hand has returned. I was able to identify what I needed because I’ve learned…
- How to listen to my body. I took an Anatomy & Physiology class last summer. Probably the most useful concept I learned was that of proprioception. This is a term for awareness of body positioning. Within the past few months, I truly felt that I could tell where my most unstable joints were at all times; I was able to sense when they were on the verge of dislocating and able to prevent full dislocations by activating specific muscles. As of right now, I can’t verbally explain the specifics of this process (or which muscles I’m activating at particular times), but I have some sort of grasp on the concept. I am now more attune to all of my skeletal muscles, and I pay special attention to muscles experiencing fatigue. When I catch this fatigue early on, I can prevent further injury.
- How to walk with friends through mental illness. Changing topics (and not revealing specifics): Samford is a very difficult environment to struggle with mental illness. “The Bubble” can become intoxicating when people expect you to at least act like you have your life together. I’ve witnessed the harm that people experience from overexposure to the filters we often place on our lives, our attempts to hide our struggles. I’ve had the privilege of sitting beside friends who were not okay and telling them, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I’ve learned the value of an assuring, non-judgmental presence.
- How to recognize my limitations. In light of these scenarios, I’ve also hit certain points when I realized that I was not the right person to be dealing with a situation. Just as I’ve learned to recognize when my muscles have been pushed too far, I’m beginning to realize when I’m being stretched too thin, emotionally. I’ve begun to learn the value of setting healthy boundaries and recognizing the need to refer people to professional help. Although one friendship has been lost through boundary setting, all others have grown much deeper as a result.
- How to recognize my purpose. Speaking of lost friendships, I did lose another friend who struggled with mental illness, and sadly we lost this friend to suicide. This tragedy brought about the element of emotional maturation that was most needed–the realization that I am not the only human being on the planet who experiences pain. To this day, I distinctly remember the sound of this friend’s loved ones expressing the pain they felt at her loss. That was the day I realized that this world is bigger than me and the pain I feel. As horrific as her death was to all those who were privileged to know her in this lifetime, it motivated me to listen for the similar sound of others hurting.
- How to grieve. After I witnessed the grief of this friend’s loved ones, I both witnessed and experienced grief over both of my dad’s parents. Soon after, I had reason to grieve the loss of my ability to perform music. I also grieved over my change of major and the friendships I had established within the Division of Music. I spent all of my junior year grieving these things. And I’ve learned that grief was justifiable and necessary before fully embracing my place in the Religion Department. (More on that in a later post.)
- How to organize my life so that I feel like I have some control. I’ve learned tactics to help me stay on top of physical and emotional pain. For instance, I’ve decided to set my limit on physical therapy time (outside of the clinic) to about 35 minutes–the length of a playlist I made to accompany my exercises. This playlist consists only of worship songs that help me center my life on the grace of God, as I try to center my joints. Multitasking by addressing physical and spiritual needs at the same time has been truly effective.
- How to relate to people through vulnerability. The concept of being vulnerable about my struggles is now fairly second nature to me, outside of the workplace. (Vulnerability has its appropriate settings–also more on that in a later post.) Vulnerability has opened the door to so many deep friendships that I cherish. It’s so freeing to not feel the need to fake my way into friendships. Vulnerability before God has also had countless benefits.
Ecclesiastes 3 (ESV)
A Time for Everything
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.
From Dust to Dust
16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
With all of these things in mind, I’m happy to report one way in which God is redeeming the journey I’ve been on for the past four years. With all of these life lessons learned outside the classroom setting, it’s time to advance my knowledge in these areas inside the classroom. That classroom is found at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In the fall, I will begin their Master of Clinical/Medical Social Work program, with the hopes of working in both medical (hospital) settings and private clinical practice, in the long-term.
I included the entire chapter of Ecclesiastes 3 because I’ve often quoted verse 11 by itself. In context, I appreciate it even more. God has made my periods of mourning and healing and weeping and laughing and silence and vulnerability beautiful by providing purpose, although I cannot fathom what marvelous plans He has had in store for me from beginning to end. With this in mind, “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” I am only one person in this world God has created. I am only one person whose influence is limited to this brief lifetime. Everything I have gone through and everything I might ever do will hold no significance at the end of my life; the glory of the LORD will outlast me.
So, as Qoheleth suggests, I’m pursuing a career path that I believe I will enjoy in my brief lifetime. My Health Psychology class this semester is probably the closest I will come to encountering my graduate school courses before beginning grad school, and I am utterly fascinated by the course content. (If you didn’t know already, I’m a nerd.) And I hope to apply what I learn in grad school to provide mental health services to those facing new physical challenges, which, I believe, will also bring fulfillment to me. My not-Samford story will equip me to glorify the Author of this story I could never come up with on my own–I’m not that creative.